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Taste buds have very sensitive microscopic hairs called microvilli (say: mye-kro-VILL-eye), which send messages to the brain about how something tastes, so we know if it's sweet, sour, bitter, or salty. No doubt that how a food tastes is its most important attribute. Food fads have proven that no matter how healthy a food might be, if it doesn’t taste good, we won’t buy it. The one exception – kale. On the other hand, we consume a lot of foods that taste great in spite of their nutritional profile or ingredients.
Josh Hahn’s MycoTechnology has developed an odorless, tasteless powder called ClearTaste which, according to his interview in Wired, is “the world’s first organic universal bitter blocker.” It's made from mycelia, the thread-like strands that make up fungal colonies and produce mushrooms.
Why is this powder important?
Becaue it could have big implications for the health of the United States’ sugar-addicted society, he says, by working on the molecular level, bonding to taste receptors on your tongue and blocking signals to your brain that translate to perceiving bitterness. It promises to reduce the sugar content of all our favorite foods by 50 to 90 percent.
In 2015, researchers from Belgium saw substantial changes in mice when bitter substances were put directly into their stomachs. Obese mice lost a significant amount of weight over the course of a month, while normal mice ate less and their stomachs emptied slower. When scientists repeated the experiment in humans, subjects who got the bitter treatment felt satiated earlier and absorbed fewer calories.
Before you get too excited, there is a word of caution.
The world’s largest flavor houses have been working on similar products, however to date they are all synthetic and not as effective to block all 25 bitter taste receptors.
The Center for Food Safetyis concerned the product will be used to market to children sensitive to bitter tastes. “Just because something comes from yeast or a mushroom doesn’t make it automatically safe,” says the Center’s senior policy analyst Jaydee Hanson. “It should still go through the whole testing process that any food additive would.”
ClearTaste is FDA-approved under Generally Regarded As Safe status, because mycelia have been in supplements for decades. MycoTechnology submitted their first peer-reviewed paper in July. But they haven’t looked at what happens after you consume the product, bitter receptors are also in our gut, lungs and brain. In the gut, bitter compounds bind and stimulate the release of peptides that tell our stomach walls how hard to contract, our intestinal cells how well to absorb nutrients, and our brains how full we feel. In our lungs they are involved in the relaxing and constricting of airways.
Scientists have hypothesized that blocking the receptors’ ability to send signals could have direct effects on gut function. Bitterness is an essential component of digestion and metabolism. Some warn that it’s also important to consider what happens after we take that perfect, bitter-free bite. “Because,” as Megan Molteni writes in Wired, “sometimes when you play tricks on your senses, you learn later the joke was on you all along”.
Danae Larsen, lead researcher of a new report published by the National Institutes of Health entitled, Increased textural complexity in food enhances satiation, looked to see if textural complexity affects satiety regardless of how much time the food stays in one’s mouth. The research used specially designed foods with either low textural or high textural complexity. These test foods were identical in nutritional density and in flavor, and since the samples were very small the time they typically stayed in the mouth was similar.
The results? Complex texture in the foods shaved about 400 calories from the meal and left the volunteers equally satisfied.
Chefs and recipe developers have long known about the importance of texture and mouthfeel; now texture can add another dimension to the food experience and makes food more interesting, enjoyable and helps us eat less.